George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teacher Development

The Risks of Guesstimating Homework Time

Studies show that homework is ineffective beyond a certain amount per night.

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It is often said that a sign of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results each time. This sums up how most American schools are dealing with the homework issue.

Not only does homework impact students but it also impacts their families. It is common for students and families to feel that they don’t have the time it takes to maintain a healthy balance between work and the rest of their lives. Family time that could be spent getting outdoors, visiting friends and relatives, and relaxing is being unnecessarily burdened by the large amount of homework kids have to do.

One student’s homework has the power to reshape how the entire family spends its time and sets its schedules. I don’t think most teachers appreciate this fact when they assign work.

Guesstimating Pitfalls

Despite studies -- such as this one from Stanford -- that show homework is ineffective beyond a certain amount per night, teachers and administrators continue to assign too much homework.

Teachers promise to assign a manageable amount of homework, but they don’t gather data on how long it takes their students to complete their homework. And exactly how do teachers estimate how long an assignment will take? Do they do it themselves first -- not factoring in that they already understand the content? How on earth do you measure the length of time it takes for a student to think through a problem or a question, and not just write the answer down on a piece of paper?

One negative result of guesstimating time allotment is that students who take more time than is allotted for the assignment can feel that they are somehow inadequate, when the truth is that the allotted time is arbitrarily set. Students might also grow cynical and believe that the teachers are gaming the system by not being honest in stating the allotment, knowing that the homework will probably take more time than promised.

Valuing Free Time

I’ve heard some teachers argue that if students stop multitasking and stay off social media, they could then get the work done in the time allotted. Perhaps, but in addition to this argument also lacking data, it is built upon the dangerous idea that young people are experts at wasting their own time.

Too many adults seem to vastly undervalue the benefits and necessity of free, unstructured time. They undervalue the impact of relaxation and social time on forming well-rounded, healthy adults. So, when students get home from band practice, a game, or their extracurricular activity at six (if they have a short commute), are eating dinner by seven, and doing their homework by eight, at what point do they have time for decompressing, connecting with friends, pets, and family?

This is a plea to teachers and administrators: Take these studies and the testimonies of students and families seriously. Gather data, and if the assignment can be done in class, determine whether making it a homework assignment is truly warranted.

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matthew.krause's picture

In some scenarios, don't you think any amount of homework is ineffective? If the only way to motivate kids to complete homework is by attaching a grade to it, why assign homework? Students should be responsible for the things done IN class that the teacher sets forth IN class.

TicherVirtual's picture

The problem seems to be the same in different countries. Teachers must complete the curriculum in short periods of time and according to the demands of the educational authorities. Parents want their kids well educated in those short periods of time because they work all day and do not have time to relax with their kids. Then, teachers, overloaded with different activities, have to make magic in those periods of short time in the classroom. I think there is someone asking for things without looking at teachers' reality and far far away from the classroom...

Corah's picture

I know how long it takes my students to do their homework because I've run a homework club after school for years. I know that most of them can get it done in under an hour.

Paul Partelow's picture

Unfortunately, as an elementary teacher, I am required to teach a curriculum that encompasses more minutes in a day than we have in our schedule. I agree 100% with less homework (or none) is best, but we are caught in a no-win situation.

Eric's picture

What counts is gaining competence in the current skill. Graded homework is a burden to correct and annotate. Teachers and parents could both benefit from being aware of &/or using for practicing skills and demonstrating competency. What do you think of an assignment of homework OR student demonstrates he already has the skill? The site also presents topics so that a student can proceed with any topic for which he has met the prerequisites. Teacher can see online how each student is doing.

Corah's picture

My students already extensively use Khan Academy in school for practice. Some of them also choose to do it at home, but not all my students have access to a computer or internet, so assigning a homework that they wouldn't be able to complete is counter productive.

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